Binge Eating Disorder (BED) shares a common thread with all eating disorders - severe disturbances in eating behavior. People who have been diagnosed with BED have frequent episodes of compulsive overeating two days a week on average, and have had these episodes for at least six months. An episode is characterized by eating large amounts of food within a two-hour period and feeling that you cannot stop eating.
Binge eating disorder is probably the most common eating disorder. According to the National Institute of Eating Disorders, BED affects between two and five percent of Americans, with men making up a large percentage of that number. This disorder has similar characteristics to non-purging bulimia and is also referred to as compulsive eating disorder.
Most people with this problem are either overweight or obese, but normal-weight people also can have the disorder. About ten to fifteen percent of people who are mildly obese and who try to lose weight on their own or through commercial weight-loss programs have binge eating disorder. The disorder is even more common in people who are severely obese.
People with binge eating disorder frequently eat large amounts of food and feel a loss of control over their eating, as well as guilt after eating. However, eating too much does not mean you are a binge eater – most people occasionally overeat and then feel bad about it, or eat too much even when they’re not hungry. Neither does the rare “binge” on junk food (or any food) necessarily imply a disorder – most people respond to an urge to overindulge now and again.
People also often mistakenly describe binge eating as a form of bulimia, but the two disorders are different. Although people with bulimia often binge eat, they usually purge, fast, or exercise strenuously after an episode of binge eating. People with binge eating disorder don't necessarily do this.
Behaviors and warning signs
Some of the warning signs and behaviors associated with binge eating disorder include:
*Rapid weight gain
*Constant weight fluctuations
*Coping with distress by eating
*Loss of control over eating
*Avoiding social situations - especially those involving food
*Eating large amounts of food late at night
*Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
*Eating abnormally large amount of food in short period of time
*Eating more rapidly than normal
*Secretive eating because of embarrassment
*Feelings of self-disgust, depression or guilt about bingeing
*Continuing to eat after feeling full, even if it causes discomfort
People with BED will exhibit at least three of these behaviors. However, remember that these examples do not provide a diagnosis. If you think you may have binge eating disorder, or want help overcoming even mild binge eating problems, speak to a health professional.
What causes it?
Repressed anger is a compelling factor in many females with BED
There are many psychological, cultural, and biological factors that contribute to binge eating disorder. Underlying issues associated with BED and other eating disorders include depression, diminished self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, inability to cope with or communicate feelings, feelings of loss of control, and anxiety. Binge eating may be used as a coping mechanism for these issues.
Our cultural preoccupation with female slimness and perfection is a clear contributor to eating disorders. Because full and healthy female figures are not valued by our society, women mistreat their bodies both in pursuit of an unattainable slimness, and out of guilt that they can’t fulfill the images of perfection surrounding them.
According to Louise Freedman, an eating disorders therapist interviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, repressed anger is a compelling factor in many females with binge eating disorder. Freedman explains that in families where anger is not allowed to be expressed by a child to a parent, that child will instead process it through secret binge eating, starvation, or self-induced vomiting; the disorder is like a silent rage against the nurturer. Most parents still teach (whether consciously or not) that a good girl keeps her anger to herself. Freedman believes that parents who encourage their daughters to express their anger instead, might actually help prevent them from turning toward the violent cycles of binge eating.
Treating the disorder
Binge eating disorder puts a huge strain on your body and threatens physical health
Many people assume that a person with an eating disorder has a problem with food. However, eating disorders actually have more to do with the mental and emotional health of a person than their relationship to food. Depression, anxiety and other mood disorders are common in people with BED. Substance abuse is often also a problem.
Because binge eating disorder is really a symptom of underlying problems in a person's life, it often needs the help of a professional to be brought under control. If you are a binge eater, and have tried unsuccessfully to control the problem on your own, you may want to seek professional treatment.
The treatment of binge eating disorder is not only important for your mind, it is also vital for your body. The physical health risks associated with binge eating disorder include:
*Type 2 diabetes
*High blood pressure
*High cholesterol levels
*Gall bladder disease
*Kidney failure or disease
*Certain types of cancer
*Complications during pregnancy
To avoid these complicated health problems, it's best to get your disorder under control as soon as possible.
Like other eating disorders, BED can be treated and a healthy weight restored. However, the sooner this disorder is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be. BED can require medical care and monitoring, as well as psychological and nutritional counseling. Some severe cases may require hospitalization.
For further information on where to get professional help, and for referral to binge eating disorder programs, click on the NIDDK link below.
Getting beneath the binge
Understanding what's going on beneath your bingeing is key to taking control of the disorder. Writing and processing your thoughts and feelings is the first step towards this understanding. Consider these statements that are true of many binge eaters, and use a journal to work through your reactions to the questions.
Binging is a temporary suspension from reality and feelings. Could this be true for you? When you binge do you think or feel anything, or are you just involved in eating? Think of some situations in your life that cause painful feelings. Are there any connections between these situations and feelings, and a binge episode?
Binge eaters have low self-esteem. Do you expect too much of yourself on the one hand, and on the other hand, are you ever really satisfied with your accomplishments? What does it take for you to be satisfied with yourself? What, in your eyes, would make you worthy of your own praise? Is your self-talk that of a caring best friend or a harsh critic that can't be pleased?
Binge eating is an outlet for unexpressed anger. Were you allowed to express anger as a child? How often do you express your anger now? After an argument with a loved one do you feel rejected, criticized, and guilty for causing it, even if you were not at fault? What do you think would happen if you expressed your anger?
People binge because they feel something is missing in their life. Ask yourself what is missing in your life. Go one step further - what can you do to change that?
Binge eating is often about rebellion. Some people say that when they binge it feels good because they are defying or rebelling against what has been expected of them. Does this ring true for you? If so, what or who are you rebelling against? Can you think of other ways to rebel without negative consequences?
Binges are predictable. Some people say that they can predict a binge – can you? Think about your last three binge episodes, what preceded them? Is there a common thread? Could you have predicted them? Could you have avoided them?
This article was compiled in consultation with CalorieKing.com experts and in reference to the following sources:
National Eating Disorders Association, 'Binge Eating Disorder,' 2002, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
'Finding hope when eating is a problem,' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 2000
Last updated: February 27th, 2007
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